The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

April 9, 2014

A Grownups’ Guide to Chasing Kids Around the Yard

Filed under: Family, Random Stuff — Brian Lutz @ 1:01 am

I certainly can’t figure them out… Can you?

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (which I belong to,) there are two Sundays a year where, in lieu of our regular Sunday meetings, we have what is known as General Conference.  Over the course of the weekend, a number of different sessions of the conference are held in Salt Lake City where church leaders speak to the membership of the church.  These sessions are broadcast by a number of various means to members around the globe, and are translated and transcribed into over 90 different languages.  Although the option is available to view the conference by satellite broadcast at the various church meetinghouses, these days most members of the church opt to view or listen to the conference by Internet from the comfort of their own homes.   In my family, we tend to use the Conference Sundays as an opportunity to have our own little get-together, something that can be difficult to do at times due to the greater distances between us these days and differing meeting schedules we have on Sundays.  This past Sunday, we had one of these get-togethers at my parents’ house up near Granite Falls.

As members of the family have moved away from the area for various reasons (one of my brothers moved to Provo last year to go to school at BYU, and my younger sister and brother-in-law recently moved from Pullman to California for a job after he completed a PhD at WSU) our family gatherings have gotten smaller over the years, to the point that this time around it was just me, my parents and my sister’s family.  It turned out to be a surprisingly nice day for it though, with the rain mostly taking the day off and even some decent sunbreaks throughout the day.  Since my parents moved into their new house about a year ago they’ve been working on getting the yard (basically a big patch of dirt when they bought the house) into shape, and one of their projects was adding a patio, complete with a fire pit that has recently been completed.  Today provided a nice first opportunity to make use of it.  Sounds like the makings of a nice quiet Sunday afternoon in the backyard, right?  Not particularly.

My sister has four boys of various ages (the oldest one currently being 7 years old, and the youngest six months) and when it’s nice outside they’re all over the place, especially Conner and Corey, the two oldest out of the four.  If I was that age and had that big yard to play in, I can’t imagine I wouldn’t be doing the same, but to be perfectly honest, I have a bit of a hard time keeping up with them these days.  It’s not that I’m (too) out of shape or anything like that, mostly it’s an issue with my knee that slows me down a bit and makes it hard to do much running.  Naturally, this presented a bit of a problem when they decided they wanted to play tag, and I was it.  Just chasing them around the rather large yard straight-up wasn’t going to cut it, so clearly some strategy was needed.  After all, even on a good day they’d have a distinct advantage in mobility and agility, not to mention that there was two of them.  It was also clear that, anytime it seemed like I might be gaining some sort of an advantage, they were going to just change the rules, Calvinball style.  The trick is to take this approach and figure out how to turn it around on them.

At first, it was just Corey chasing me around, so it was easy enough to make a few (incredibly) halfhearted efforts at catching him.  After all, when you’re dealing with a five year old it doesn’t even really require bright shiny objects to distract them (although it certainly helps,) so the trick is to wait until something else grabs his eye and he isn’t paying attention, then tag him and run (or quickly walk) away.  Of course, eventually they start to catch on, so the effectiveness of this approach tends to diminish over time.  Pretty soon they start recruiting their brothers to join in and chase after you, and you have to start picking one at a time to chase.  Of course, even with their speed, agility and endurance you’re still going to catch to them eventually, which right about the point where they start throwing the whole “Base” thing into the mix.  Base, for those of you who may have forgotten the  vagaries of various childhood playground games, is basically a convenient excuse for someone not to be it when they’re tagged.  Normally the location of said base is a fixed position in some easily accessible central location that can be reached quickly in the event of a rapidly approaching it.

This generally holds true right up until the time when the base suddenly ends up being inaccessible with the It approaching quickly.  It is at this point that the definition of Base tends to shift around a bit.  First it’s in one spot (which, of course, they happened to reach about .003 seconds before you managed to tag them), then it’s another spot, and then when none of those work things start to devolve into more theoretical things.  At one point, I think they decided that anything made out of wood was base.  Although this idea would theoretically result in a dramatic increase of the base-enabled surfaces available, it was also rather short-lived after I managed to find a convenient rake handle and call it a portable base.  This resulted in a rather hasty reconsideration of the whole thing.  Eventually it was decided (after a lot more running around trying to call various items base) that anything solid was now the base.  If we were going by boring technical definitions that would have basically rendered the entire game physically impossible to play (unless everyone figured out some way to assume a gaseous state of some sort and then managed to find a way to chase each other around without dissipating into the atmosphere.)  Of course, even going by a second grader’s definition of a solid this didn’t accomplish much anyway, since I pointed out that the big patio in my parents’ backyard that we were all standing on happened to be quite solid.

By this time I think we were all spending more time constantly redefining the ground rules and trying to flaunt whatever rules actually managed to stick than playing the game, and pretty soon it turned into hide-and-seek, which doesn’t work all that well when the only real hiding spots in the yard were either on the porch or behind the shed.  And after that, I think everyone just went back to trying to set each other’s pants on fire with magnifying glasses (it’s a long story,) but fortunately/unfortunately there were too many clouds for any of this to be particularly effective.  Eventually things mostly managed to settle down, but something tells me that those boys could keep going for quite a bit longer given the opportunity to do so.  It can be tough to keep up with them sometimes.

When you’re dealing with young children on a sunny day with a large backyard, eventually everything ends up turning into Calvinball.


April 1, 2014

The Stupidest Idea I’ve Had All Week: How to Crowdfund Your Way to Fame and/or Fortune

Filed under: Bad Ideas, Random Stuff — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 1:12 am
A Pile of Money

The expected result. – Image Credit: Flickr user Veken Gueyikan, Creative Commons

Note:  This was originally intended to be an April Fools Day post, but I realized that even by my admittedly low standards this was a pretty harebrained idea.  It is for this reason that I will present it as just another one of my run-of-the-mill bad ideas.  I seem to have no shortage of these lately…

I have been writing on this Blog for close to seven years now, and although during that time there have been ups and downs involved with this, over the past few months there has been one overriding concern that has arisen in my mind about this Blog and its future:  Somehow, I have failed to get rich off my Blog.  Now part of this is my own fault:  I haven’t made much effort to pursue the monetization of my Blog, but that’s really beside the point.  After all, some random article I read on the Internet ten years ago told me I could make a fortune in Blogging, and if it’s on the Internet it must be true.  Sure, I may have inadvertently forgotten to buy the $495 guide explaining how to do it, but how hard can it be to figure out?  Naturally, the most obvious way to make money by Blogging is to plaster ridiculous ads all over the pages.  Just a few banners here and there, and I could easily be making as much as .02 cents per visitor, which would add up to…  Hang on, let me do a bit of math here…  Around $10 a year, give or take.  I figure that would cover about a third of what I spend annually on image hosting (in the form of a Photobucket subscription,) which doesn’t exactly result in a whole lot of getting rich.  Clearly a different plan is needed here…

Then again, lately we’ve seen some interesting examples of ways to do just this.  If you’ve been reading the news over the past week or so, you will know that Oculus, a small startup company designing virtual reality hardware for (eventually) consumers that got its start primarily on crowdfunding through Kickstarter, was purchased by Facebook for $2 billion, in spite of never shipping (or even announcing) any sort of consumer-focused product, just a bunch of development kits.  In the process, they’ve set a new standard for cashing in on riding questionable fads, which raises some interesting questions:  Just what would it take to crowdfund something out of thin air and/or whole cloth and parlay it into big bucks?  For that matter, just what does it take to sell an idea for big bucks without actually following through on any of it?

In theory, the idea behind crowdfunding is to take some idea that you have, find enough people to back that idea, then use their funding to implement it.  In practice, the whole process tends to be kind of hit-or-miss.  Frequently you hear stories of projects that met their funding goals, then never quite panned out beyond that.  It’s hard to say how much of this comes from people getting in over their heads and finding their projects to be more than they had bargained for, but there have been some accused of doing the whole “take the money and run” routine.  In this case, we’re not actually trying to scam anyone here, we’re just trying to find just enough work to get someone’s attention.  We’re not looking to change the world here, all we’re looking for is something that someone with ridiculously deep pockets thinks might change the world, and is either too willing or too shortsighted to think the whole thing through.  The best way to do this seems to be to latch onto the latest big fad.  Preferably something big companies are throwing a lot of money into in an effort to try to get consumers to adopt it by sheer brute force.

Of course, you also need something for the big companies to throw those big bucks at, which means you’re going to need a team of engineers to build it.   It can be a little bit tricky hiring engineers without some startup capital, which is where the Kickstarter is going to come in.  For whatever it is that you decide to make, be sure to keep the backer rewards vague, at least at the lower levels.  Assuming you execute this strategy correctly you will probably end up with a product of some sort somewhere along the line, but you’re not trying to make something for the masses.  Keep the backer rewards at the lower tiers as things like T-shirts and tote bags, and put the actual products on much higher tiers.  That way you can deliver the actual rewards to the majority of the backers without too much fuss, and you can buy some time to “develop” stuff.  In the meantime, keep talking about your prototypes.  If you can manage to produce something that won’t crash and burn too often, try releasing a few as development versions to the higher-tier backers.  They don’t have to be perfect, just good enough that people who can work their way around some bugs can deal with them.  Again, it helps if you’ve got plenty of people willing to chase the latest fads and see potential whether it’s there or not.  Hubris can be your friend, just as long as you don’t fall into it yourself (that’s a job for your marketing people.  You DO have marketing people, right?)

If you can manage to pull this whole routine off and get the right kind of attention, start insinuating about what you could do with the “right kind of partner” to take your product to the next level.  Feel free to go into full-on vaporware mode for this; after all, the engineers can figure all that stuff out later.  As soon as the right combination of excessive money and deficient sense arrives, jump on it.  In the end, you’ll make out like a bandit, and it’ll be someone else’s job to figure out how to put your wild ideas to work.  At this point, it’s usually a good idea to stick around for a few months before quietly bowing out to “pursue the next big thing”.  What you do at this point is entirely up to you, but if you implemented the previous steps correctly, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ve got a large number of people who would love your head on a silver platter.  I’d recommend finding a nice quiet island with poorly enforced extradition policies, low taxes and which is somewhere that’s really expensive for disgruntled Kickstarter backers to travel to, and just lay low until everyone has forgotten who you are.

You would think this kind of idea would be just as terrible as it sounds, but if you ask the guys at Oculus, apparently it works…


February 27, 2014

Random Thoughts: The Land of the Not-Quite-Midnight Sun

Filed under: Random Stuff — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 1:18 am

Picture only vaguely related.

As we approach the end of February and begin to transition into March and the pending arrival of Spring that it brings, this time of year tends to mark a bit of a small milestone in my mind.  It’s the time of year when there’s still a few remaining shreds of daylight outside when I leave the office in the evening.  I’m pretty sure I’ve talked about this before on my Blog (after 6 1/2 years and 635 posts, I suspect there isn’t a whole lot left that I haven’t talked about on here at one point or another) but I tend to view this as the point where Winter is finally starting to wane, and it’s just about time to start looking for signs of Spring.  Generally, by the middle of Autumn all (or most of) the leaves have fallen off the trees, and at that point most people just tend to spend the next three or four months treating them as basically a blind spot, since there isn’t really anything to see there anyway.  In fact, it wasn’t until I was leaving the office today that I happened to notice some of the trees lining Spring street between Western and First still had their Christmas lights on, even though I walk past there on a regular basis.  I just hadn’t bothered to take notice of the fact.

As I’m sure you’ve heard from many sources over many years, even though the Winter weather we get around here tends to be relatively mild compared to the Winter weather you find in a lot of places (the Eastern United States in particular seems to be getting more than their fair share of the stuff this year) but that doesn’t mean it isn’t thoroughly miserable out there at times.  The fact that Seattle is one of the Northernmost major cities in the Continental United States means that we tend to have a greater variation in the lengths of our days and nights than a lot of places.  During the Summer it may not get dark until almost 10pm, but around the Winter Solstice, sunset here can be as early as 4:18pm. (Note:  This is based on 2013 sunrise/sunset times, not sure how much it varies from year to year.)  To contrast, in Los Angeles (about 1,000 miles South of here, and approximately 200 miles east of Seattle in longitude,) the earliest sunsets in December happen at 4:43pm, nearly a half hour later, and the latest sunsets in June are at 8:08pm, which is over an hour earlier than here.  At the Summer Solstice, Los Angeles gets 14 hours, 25 minutes and 34 seconds between Sunrise and Sunset, but Seattle gets 15 hours, 59 minutes and 20 seconds (feel free to round up to an even 16 hours if you’d like,) nearly an hour and a half more sunlight.

On the other hand, at the Winter Solstice Seattle only gets 8 hours, 25 minutes and 24 seconds, while Los Angeles gets 9 hours, 53 minutes and 26 seconds, a difference of roughly an hour and a half (give or take a minute or two.)  If you compare this to a location even further South (such as Miami, which is just about as far South as you can get in the continental United States) the difference becomes even more marked, with over two hours more sunlight here at the Summer Solstice, and over two hours more sunlight there at the Winter Solstice.  Taking this exercise to its logical conclusion (in this case, almost directly on the Equator in Quito, Ecuador)  reveals a difference of roughly 4 hours at each Solstice.  Granted, it’s not quite the “Midnight Sun” that they get up in Northern Alaska during the Summer (which they make up for with Polar Night, a period of one or more days with no sun at all during the Winter above the Arctic Circle) but the effect is more significant than most people might imagine.  People don’t tend to think of Seattle as really being a Northern city, but at a latitude of 47°37′N, it’s quite a bit farther north than quite a few major Canadian cities, including Toronto (43°42′N), Ottawa (45°25′N), Montreal(45°30′N) and Quebec City (46°49′N.)  In fact, the closest Canadian city in terms of latitude is St. John’s, Newfoundland at 47°34′N, and people tend to think of Newfoundland as being way up in the North, but it’s still south of Seattle in latitude.  Obviously there are also a number of Canadian cities well to the north of Seattle, including Vancouver (obviously), Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon and Winnipeg, but it turns out that Seattle is farther north than the areas that at least a third of the population of Canada lives in (too lazy to try to sort out population stuff right now, it’s already 1am while I’m typing this. and I should probably have been in bed an hour ago.)

Nonetheless, regardless of how late it stays light outside during the Summer, we definitely seem to end up paying for it with our early darkness during the Winter.  And when it gets dark as early as it does in December and January, you tend not to notice things.  Sure, the weather is still, on average, fairly miserable on most days, but at least when the light starts to stay longer the “gloom” portion of the whole doom-and-gloom thing that seems so popular around this time of year tends to be reduced to some extent.  Yes, it’s still 43 degrees outside and you’re still trudging up the hill to the bus stop in the type of rain that isn’t enough to really do much more than annoy you, but at least you tend to have some sense that it can’t last forever.  I’m sure if I went looking for the signs of the pending Spring they wouldn’t be too hard to find (and probably wouldn’t have been too hard to find three weeks ago if I cared to look then) but regardless of how vigilant one might or might not be, Spring has a tendency to sneak up on us a bit.  One day, we happen to look up and suddenly notice that the trees are in full blossom, and wonder when it happened.  Then again, a dormant tree in Winter just tends to kind of blend into the background without much reason to notice it, until suddenly one day it wakes up and makes itself highly visible.  But in the meantime, we’re not quite out of the proverbial woods yet.  At least we can see that we might be soon enough, which sometimes is just barely enough to keep us going for a while.

(Sources:  Sunrise and sunset data used here came from this site.  Data on latitudes of Canadian cities from this page.)

January 27, 2014

The Stupidest Idea I’ve Had All Week: Optimizing Delivery of Restaurant Baked Goods With Ballistic Devices

Filed under: Food, Random Stuff — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 1:21 am

Last week, the Old Spaghetti Factory was celebrating their 45th anniversary by offering their various carb-based meals for $4 for a couple of days.  Me and my girlfriend decided to take advantage of this offer, and unsurprisingly, we found that we weren’t the only ones.  It took close to a 45 minute wait for a table to become available for us after we arrived, and even once we were seated we found the service to be somewhat on the slow side, presumably owing to the large crowds they were dealing with that evening (and no, I’m not complaining about the service, I figure that just comes with the territory when you go for this type of thing.)  Typically, when you start a meal at the Old Spaghetti Factory they bring bread to your table, but even the bread was taking some time to arrive this evening.  Being hungry after 45 minutes of waiting just to get a table, we were naturally getting a little bit impatient.  And when I get impatient, bad ideas usually tend to be the result.  And believe me, I’ve got plenty of those to go around.

It’s not like there was any lack of available bread in the restaurant, at least as far as we could tell.  A quick census of the other tables revealed that a significant number of them had received bread at some point prior, although we did not have any reliable method of determining the  TTB (Time to Bread) value for any except our own table.  Given the fact that the bread at this particular restaurant is typically served hot, it is entirely possible that the baking mechanisms could bottleneck the process at times of extreme volume (it is probably reasonable to assume that this would have been considered a time of high volume) but on the whole, it would seem that the bread supply on hand was adequate.  That would mean the most likely delay in bread delivery to our table would have been the delivery itself, which depended on a server who was presumably too busy dealing with his other tables to deliver bread in a timely fashion.  Surely there has to be some way to speed up this process.

It was about this point that we recalled an incident that happened on one of our Disneyland trips last year.  While wandering around the Pacific Wharf area of California Adventure, we came across the Boudin Bakery, where a number of people were inside preparing what appeared to be bread bowls, presumably for clam chowder or something similar.  We paused for a minute at the window and watched, when suddenly someone inside tossed one of the bread bowls at us.  Fortunately there was a window between us and the flying carbohydrate projectile, but it startled the heck out of us, and months later, we still joke about the time that we went to Disneyland and they threw bread at us.  But upon recalling this, it occurred to us that this could, in fact, be a significantly more efficient way of transferring bread from oven to consumer when compared to the current methods.  Some further research on this subject reveals that I’m not the first person to have this idea.  Lambert’s Cafe, founded in Sikeston Missouri with additional locations in Ozark Missouri and Foley Alabama, has been throwing bread at people for decades.  As you can see from the video below, this is a very efficient method of bread delivery.

Then again, even though setting up a cart in the corner and getting a guy to throw rolls at customers works well in a down-home place like Lambert’s, in a modern high-volume foodservice environment you’re going to need something a bit more efficient than that.  Fortunately, we have plenty of sources we could borrow from for this type of thing.  A quick search reveals that there have been literally hundreds of years of research put into the subject of placing objects in precise locations on a ballistic trajectory.  There are also quite a few time-tested methods of delivering ballistic projectiles to precise locations, any one of which could possibly be adapted to the application of delivering bread in a foodservice environment.  Granted, most of this science behind this type of thing tends to be concerned more with things like heavy boulders and high explosives, but I’m sure some of the existing research could be adapted to baked goods if necessary.  You would probably need to figure out a few minor details like mass, avoiding obstacles and not demolishing the tables and/or restaurant patrons with your bread-delivery system, but I’m sure those problems could probably be sorted out in a year or two.  Targeting could also be an issue, since the average restaurant server tends not to be well acquainted with the art of ballistics.  Fortunately, I think this problem tends to be fairly easy to solve.  After all, most restaurants tend to keep their tables in well-defined fixed locations, so if a pre-programmed computer controlled trajectory could be established for each table and/or seat, then you could ensure reasonably consistent  placement of the baked goods, although for a number of reasons (primarily variance in the mass and aerodynamic properties of the projectiles, as well as any air currents that might be present) within the restaurant) I think you would probably still need to allow for about a 5% margin of error.

There are also some inherent problems with applying this type of solution to existing restaurants, as it turns out that a shockingly small number of the restaurants opened in the United States in the last 50 years have taken projectile physics into consideration in their designs, which creates some challenges when it comes time to integrate a ballistic baked good delivery system into an existing restaurant.  Perhaps the biggest obstacle faced by the designers of such a system is how to deal with ceilings, which would tend to artificially limit the allowable height for projectiles.  In theory the baked goods could still be delivered to their targets on lower trajectories that will keep them at more acceptable altitudes, but this would also require more power to be applied at the launch end, which could result in some complications (including but not limited to spilled drinks, bruising, broken bones, tooth loss, unsightly dents in restaurant walls and/or shattered bottles of top-shelf liquors if a projectile intended for a bar patron goes off course.)  Ultimately, retrofitting an existing restaurant for ballistic bread delivery would ideally involve raising the ceilings to allow for higher arcing trajectories that are less likely to encounter interference from existing fixtures.  Determining the optimal trajectory for each table in a given establishment would also be a matter of trial and error.  Unfortunately, a lot of the existing science on this type of thing tends to be based on the assumption that the intended targets for most ballistic projectiles are intended to be demolished by said projectiles, a condition which is generally considered undesirable in a foodservice environment.  Then again, most baked goods tend to have relatively low mass when compared to most ballistic projectiles, so with a few minor countermeasures to arrest excessive velocity at the receiving end I’m sure something could be worked out that would deliver (mostly) intact bread on a reasonably consistent basis.  More research is clearly needed on this subject.

Then again, I’m not an engineer, and most of what I happen to know about ballistics comes from Wile E. Coyote cartoons and playing Scorched Earth as a kid, so I’m sure there are factors in play here that I have failed to properly consider.  All I know is that there are significant inefficiencies in the current foodservice bread-delivery paradigm, many of which can be solved with the judicious application of physics.  But what if you want butter with your bread?  Well, I guess the engineers still need to figure that one out.

November 23, 2013

Fun with unexpected business travel: Actually, I don’t really know the way to San Jose.

Filed under: Random Stuff, Wanderings — Brian Lutz @ 1:48 pm

(Edit:  Apparently the Android WordPress app can’t be bothered to resize images, leaving a ridiculously huge image on the front page.  Those responsible have been sacked.  I’ll fix it when I’m on something better than gerbil-powered hotel Wi-Fi.)

As of 4:30 yesterday, I’m pretty sure my weekend plans didn’t include anything about flying down to Silicon Valley for an unexpected debugging session to try to troubleshoot a problem with a car that is blocking a rather important test. Apparently that’s what happened though, since I’m currently on a badly delayed plane to San Jose (remember kids, you can’t spell “Southwest Airlines” without “Late”!) to try to solve a problem with about half of the usual debugging tools I normally have at my disposal and only a vague idea of what’s going on.  Given the fact that the FAA has finally done away with that archaic rule about no electronic devices below 10,000 feet, I’ve actually got enough time to do some blogging on one of these relatively short flights.  Given the fact that the plane is not currently plummeting to Earth in an impressive fireball of doom I’ve got to figure the risk was pretty nonexistent in the first place.  This particular plane seems to be staffed by a rather snarky crew of flight attendants, which made for a rather interesting safety spiel prior to takeoff (we were warned of what to do just in case the Southwest Airlines flight turns into a Royal Caribbean cruise, and it didn’t involve any trips to the buffet unfortunately.)

Even though work has been quite hectic for the past few months , it had actually slowed down over the past few weeks, to the point that I can actually leave the office at a somewhat reasonable time most days.  Of course assorted fire drills do still pop up every so often, but that’s pretty much par for the course no matter where you are.  I am also now just two weeks away from the big vacation I’ve been looking forward to for six months now, and starting to get ready for that.  Granted, the past year has provided more than adequate opportunities to travel (something I am grateful for, and something I suspect I will not always have the chance to do,) but for years now I’ve been in sort of a limbo where as I jumped from contact to contact at Microsoft and elsewhere, I always found myself in one of two situations:  Plenty of money and to many obligations to go anywhere, or plenty of time, but no money to spend on traveling.

It has only been within the last couple of years that I have been able to manage both at the same time, and I’m taking advantage of the situation while I can.  I also consider myself fortunate to have good friends to travel with, one of whom will be joining me on the upcoming trip.  With Thanksgiving coming up next week I will save most of that for the annual “Going Around the Table”post, but even if things aren’t quite perfect for me right now ( and aren’t likely to be perfect anytime soon) I do still have to consider myself fortunate for the opportunities I have right now, and good people to share them with.

In the meantime, I might as well sit back and enjoy the flight, and hope I know what I’m doing well enough to do some good here.  At least I can’t say I lead a boring life these days, right?

October 25, 2013

Disneyland Facts that are Not True: The Complete Collection (so far)

Filed under: Random Stuff — Tags: , , , — Brian Lutz @ 12:01 am

Update 4/24/14:  A few more of these have been posted from other recent visits to Disneyland.  Please see this post for some more Disneyland Facts that are Not True.

Yes, I am aware that posting has been light again recently.  I’ve actually got a more substantial post on the way soon, but it’s looking at this point like that will be coming sometime next week.  In the meantime, I’ve been meaning to consolidate all of my various Disneyland Facts that are Not True into one place, which will be this post.  For a bit of explanation of what you’re reading here, when me and my friends make trips to Disneyland (which happens quite a bit these days, since we have Annual Passes now and a place to stay when we go down, which makes it relatively inexpensive for us to go)  I try to post one of these for each day we spend in the parks.  As the title says, none of these are actually true, but as we go through the parks we have a tendency to make up our own little stories about things, and over time a sort of improvised fiction comes out of it, and occasionally even manages to stick (whenever we go on Pirates of the Caribbean we still debate whether the real-water version or the fake-water version was better, for example.)  Sometimes these come out of various incidents that might occur.  Sometimes they just sound ridiculous enough to be vaguely plausible.  Other times I just decide to make things up out of thin air in a (usually futile) effort to sound like I know what I’m doing.  Either way, sometimes it’s just more fun to make things up than to talk about real ones, so here you go.

And yes, you may have seen some of these before, either in earlier Blog Posts or on my Facebook feed if you happen to be on that.  Mostly I just wanted to consolidate all of them into one place for future reference (although I have no idea why the heck I’d ever need to refer back to any of these.)  Anyway, without further ado…

Disneyland Facts That Are Not True:

  • Due to declining bird population, most birds in the skies over Disneyland are now animatronics that fly around the park on pre-programmed flight paths throughout the day. Occasionally one wanders away from the park; if you find one and return it, you will be rewarded with a free churro on your next visit to the parks.
  • In order to avoid having to put a State of California Proposition 65 warning on the ride, in 2007 all of the water in Pirates of the Caribbean was removed and replaced with an innovative new nitrogen-based substitute fluid. Most people do not notice any difference between regular water and N-273 (the less-than-inspiring code name of the new substance), but Disney junkies endlessly debate whether the real-water version is better than the fake water version on Internet forums. Ironically, if water gets into the “water”, they have to take the ride offline for cleanup. Real boats would sink in this substance, so the boats had to be specially modified.
  • As a show of Disney’s commitment to alternative energy, King Arthur’s Carrousel has recently been converted to be powered by four oxen.  A herd of twenty-four oxen have recently joined the horses, goats, sheep and other livestock that live at the Circle D Ranch just outside the park’s outer perimeter.  Teams of oxen work three-hour shifts during the day to power the Carrousel,  A recent report cited a reduction in energy usage by the ride of nearly 40% since this was implemented, prompting Disney to consider the use of similar animal-powered propulsion systems for the Mad Tea Party ride.
  • In order to move the phases of the Moon to a more convenient time for photo-taking opportunities within the parks, Disney has created an artificial moon over California Adventure which keeps its phases eight days out of alignment from the real moon, but can also be modified on the fly as necessary. On October 27th 2005, the fake moon malfunctioned, and for roughly three hours there were two separate moons over the park.
  • Although many theories have been made about the origins of the name of Disneyland’s exclusive Club 33, the club received its name from the fact that when it opened in 1967, the cost of a meal at the club was $33. Among the many special benefits that Club 33 members enjoy is the fact that they are each allowed to bring home up to six of the park’s feral cats each year.
  • For a number of years, among Disney Cast Members there has been an underground “scene” devoted to tuning and customizing Autopia cars. Twice a year after hours, they hold races on the Autopia to determine whose car is fastest. The current record was set in 2008 with a time of 2 minutes 28 seconds, with a top speed of 11.78 miles per hour. Unofficially, a car in 2003 reached a blistering 18 miles per hour on the main straightaway, but was disqualified when an illegal nitrous system was discovered.
  • As a cost saving measure, several of the floats used in the parks’ iconic daily parades are built on top of riding lawnmowers. This allows them to be repurposed to mow lawns throughout the park when Disney creates a new parade. In order to make sure guests do not find out about this, they only mow lawns in the parks late at night.
  • In 2009, the American Chiropractic Association honored the Matterhorn Bobsleds with their coveted Amusement Ride of the Year award, in recognition of its 50 years of exemplary contributions to the Chiropractic profession.

  • Since the mid Nineties, Disney has had a genetic engineering program devoted to creating topiary bushes that grow into and maintain specified shapes (programmed into the plants’ DNA) with little to no maintenance. A number of the simpler topiaries on It’s a Small World have now been replaced by these modified bushes.  Disney has been tight-lipped about the program, but current rumors suggest that maintenance costs of the plants in Fantasyland have been reduced by at least 27% through the use of the self-shaping shrubs.  The topiary buffalo found near the ride, planted in 2008, represents the current state of the art in self-shaping bushes, and has been replaced on at least three occasions with newer (and more advanced) versions since the program began.
  • Anyone who has been visiting Disneyland for long enough knows that the old Mine Train ride Through Nature’s Wonderland was replaced in 1979 by the much more thrilling Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, but few people know that the creation of BTMRR was prompted by an accidental discovery of a significant deposit of rare earth minerals underneath Nature’s Wonderland in 1975. As the ride was being built, a small but productive mining operation was commenced several hundred feet below the attraction, and continues to this day. For most of the past year the ride has been closed, ostensibly to facilitate a replacement of the tracks, but in addition to the work above ground, an exploratory shaft is currently being dug toward the Matterhorn in hopes of finding even larger deposits.
  • Although the Haunted Mansion is widely advertised to house 999 Happy Haunts (with room for 1,000,) in reality Disney’s internal standards allow for a variance of plus or minus two percent on any given day to account for scheduling conflicts or other issues that might arise among the attraction’s spook population. Although they do manage an exact count of 999 on most days, the Mansion can be considered to be operating normally with as few as 980 Happy Haunts or as many as 1,019. On March 14th 2009, a mishap in scheduling resulted in a record 1,143 Happy Haunts inside the Mansion for a short period of time before the problem was discovered by cast members and the ride brought down to rectify the problem.
  • In July of 2009, the Captain Jack Sparrow animatronic in the final scene of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride suffered a major malfunction. Rather than risk extended downtime to the ride during one of the busiest parts of the year to make repairs, Disney hired Johnny Depp to replace the broken animatronic in the ride for three days. He did such a good job of staying in character that the ruse was not discovered until several weeks later by Disneyphiles reviewing YouTube videos of the ride and noticing discrepancies in the motions compared to the existing figure.  To this day, Disney denies that this ever happened.
  • Although it is rarely seen by park guests, there is in fact an alternate path on the Indiana Jones Adventure ride that does not lead you to the Gates of Doom. Naturally, you get there by not looking into the Eye of Mara, which is nearly impossible to get 12 tourists on a ride car to cooperate on at once. If you are fortunate enough to reach this alternate path there will not be untold riches or eternal youth, but you may get free t-shirts, snacks, Disney gift cards or possibly even free admission to the park. Naturally, the ride is considerably shorter than normal along this alternate path.  In order to minimize operating costs, Disney does not advertise the existence of this alternate path, and swears all who manage to find it to secrecy.
  • In spite of the fact that the new version of Star Tours has been running since 2011, this has had little effect on protracted litigation that has been ongoing since at least 1992 between the Walt Disney Company and Reubens Robotic Systems, manufacturers of the notoriously unreliable RX-series pilot droids that led to numerous incidents in the original version of the ride. Although this has become a well known case study in many prestigious law schools, no resolution to the ongoing case is expected anytime soon.
  • A recent deal between Disney and Starbucks has recently resulted in a brand new Starbucks location being opened in the former Market House on Main Street USA, as well as the Fiddler, Fifer and Practical Cafe which opened along with Buena Vista Street in California Adventure last year. In keeping with Starbucks’ standard expansion strategies, there are currently plans for at least 12-18 more locations within Disneyland Park to be opened by 2016, and another eight planned for California Adventure.

  • Visitors to the Disneyland Resort soon become aware of the green tape is used by cast members to make improvised queues as needed for rides, shows and other various purposes. What they may not be aware of is that this tape is the product of years of research by Disney Imagineering. The current version in use in the parks was introduced in 2011, and represents some the very latest innovations in adhesive technology. Shortly after the new version of the tape was introduced, a cast member on his last day on the job decided to randomly create a queue out of the green tape in the middle of Fantasyland. Such is the power of the green tape that the improvised queue attracted as many as 300 visitors, some of whom spent nearly an hour  waiting before they finally managed to figure out that they weren’t actually in line for anything.
  • As a result of the recent government shutdown for lack of a budget, the National Parks Service advised Disney that they must shut down the Grand Canyon diorama along the Disneyland Railroad between Tomorrowland and Main Street USA until the government was back in operation. Orange cones were hastily placed along the route, and during the shutdown guests were being advised to look in the opposite direction as the train passed by the diorama. Naturally, little actual enforcement of this edict happened, and most visitors just assumed that the cones were there for maintenance purposes.
  • Although haunting duties at the Haunted Mansion are typically handled by a team of roughly 1,550 rotating Happy Haunts (typically 999 at a time, give or take a handful,) for three months out of the year the Haunted Mansion becomes the Haunted Mansion Holiday, a Nightmare Before Christmas version of the mansion that requires far fewer spooks to operate than the standard version. During this time of year, several hundred Happy Haunts are assigned to other attractions throughout the park, including It’s a Small World, Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy and even the Matterhorn on occasion. Perhaps the most visible manifestation of this policy takes place on the Autopia, where during HalloweenTime you can opt to let a ghost do the driving for you by controlling only the gas pedal in the car. Naturally, the ghost drivers aren’t very good at it.

October 3, 2013

Yet Another Stupid Idea: Pop Culture for the Easily Distracted (or I Want my ADDTV!)

Filed under: Culture, Random Stuff — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 1:36 am

One of the main challenges I have with this Blog is trying to come up with a steady stream of good ideas for things to write about.  Naturally, this is a lot harder to do than it looks.  After all, there are only so many dead shopping malls I can write depressing travelogues about around here, and most of them are taken (although I do really need to do some followup posts one of these days.)  In fact, it’s pretty common for me to be pretty much out of good ideas at any given time.  Because of this, I am getting ready to resort to plan B:  Bad ideas.  I’m pretty sure I’m not going to run out of those anytime soon.

Over the past few weeks, one of the things I’ve watched with unusual interest is all the hype on the Internet surrounding the final season (or half-season, as the case may be) of Breaking Bad.  As it has transpired over the course of the past eight weeks, I’ve seen no end of analysis, theories, speculation and other assorted discussion  running rampant all over the Internet.  After each episode, detailed summaries of the plot were plastered across the Internet in numerous places, and dissected in great detail by commenters.  People practically wrote entire dissertations trying to figure out how to interpret what happened and speculate on what hidden meaning might be behind it.  Eventually, it seemed like virtually everyone had some theory as to what was going to happen in the end (mine was something along the lines of Walter going out in a big “everyone ends up dead” style shootout and the big pile of money getting set on fire and burning to ashes, which turned out to be kind of semi-accurate but not really.)  The conclusion came this past Sunday as the final episode aired, and now with the full story told, people seem to be speculating endlessly on what it all meant, and how it’s supposed to be interpreted.  It was interesting to watch how Breaking Bad went from being considered a reasonably good cable drama to being a must-see show in its final season, to becoming almost a cultural phenomenon of sorts as the final episodes aired.  There’s really only one problem with the whole thing as far as I am concerned:  I can’t be bothered to actually watch any of it.

For reasons that I’ve discussed in previous posts on similar subjects, I just can’t be bothered to actually watch most TV, movies or sports these days.  That isn’t to say that I’m not interested in it, just that in most cases I’m not interested enough in it to actually watch it.  Lately, I find that I’ve all but completely stopped watching TV, and although my overall movie viewership is up over the past couple of years from the virtually zero that it used to be, I still don’t watch all that many movies.  Even for sporting events I typically don’t bother watching at all, and just look up the scores later.  I must also confess that on more than one occasion I’ve excused myself for a restroom break during a movie in the theater and used the time to look up a plot summary for the movie I’m currently watching on Wikipedia.  Yeah, I know, spoilers and things like that, but to be honest, spoilers just don’t bother me.  As I’ve said before on this Blog, I have basically no ability to suspend disbelief, so I tend to take most movies at face value.  Knowing what’s coming next doesn’t really affect that, and as long as I’m not spoiling it for anyone else I don’t see much harm in doing it.  But I digress.

I suspect that a lot of the speculation and rumor that has surrounded Breaking Bad over the past couple of months is coming from the types of people who couldn’t stand the thought of writing a book report back in high school, yet probably didn’t realize that they were practically doing just that without even the prospect of being able to get any credit for it. Although I seriously doubt that any of the classic literature being studied endlessly in high schools around the world is at risk of being replaced by television dramas anytime soon (for one thing, I seriously doubt you could get the average teenager to sit still for 62+ hours of anything, much less if they were going to end up being graded on it)  I doubt all the interest in this type of thing is going unnoticed among the academic community.  I suspect it’ll be a matter of time before some random college out there is offering a credit class on Breaking Bad (and somehow I don’t think it’s going to be a chemistry class.)  And yet, I wonder just how many of those people speculating on the Internet are in the same boat as I am, watching the whole thing from a distance but not actually partaking in any of it?  There’s an entire subculture on the Internet that seems to thrive on this type of thing (although Breaking Bad is the latest and perhaps most visible example to date, a similar phenomenon can be seen around many other popular shows, with Game of Thrones being another prime example) but there’s no way that all of them are actually watching the shows all the time.  Even the Breaking Bad finale got only around 10.2 million viewers, good for only about #82 on this list of the most watched TV series finales (For comparison, the two season premiere episodes of The Big Bang Theory shown last Thursday on CBS each had nearly twice as many viewers.)  Although those numbers don’t account for people watching on DVRs, I suspect that a lot of the interest is coming from people who aren’t actually watching the show.  This is where my bad idea comes in.

It’s when you start to think phenomenon in terms of sports that it all starts to make sense.  On a typical Sunday during the NFL regular season there can be as many as 14 games being played, and the average fan with the average TV setup would be hard pressed to actively watch more than 3 of those games, and they can sort of watch maybe 5 or 6 games if they flip around the channels.  The problem with all that flipping around is that a game like football has a lot of dead time in between plays, not to mention about half a zillion commercial breaks per game.  And there’s always the nagging sense that while you’re sitting there watching the refs stare into their replay box as they deliberate a coaches challenge on one channel, something exciting could be happening on another one.  You could see how someone could be driven to distraction pretty easily by the whole thing.  Fortunately, the NFL has figured this out already and come up with their own solution: NFL RedZone.  RedZone is a cable network that basically distills an entire Sunday’s worth of NFL action into a single channel, switching around between games just when things start getting exciting.  Last year Rembert Browne of ESPN sister site Grantland wrote a fascinating article about spending a Sunday in the RedZone studio and seeing firsthand just how much effort goes into trying to distill a Sunday’s worth of NFL action into a readily digestible form.  When you think about it, it’s basically the ADD version of football.  Why not do the same thing with other television?

Granted, the TV version of this type of thing wouldn’t necessarily need to be an eight-hour live studio broadcast with teams of dedicated people scouring the airwaves for juicy little tidbits during prime time.  I’m thinking of something more along the lines of a Sportscenter type highlight show for television, with assorted commentary and analysis thrown in for good measure.  Of course the big-name shows would get most of the airtime (in much the same way that the more important games get most of the airtime in a sports highlight show) but they would still have the flexibility to put stuff from other shows in.  Naturally, most of the show would be composed of highlight reels from the shows being covered, covering all the interesting bits from the latest episodes while leaving out most of the filler.  This way, in an hour (or two, if a network has enough good shows) someone can get their pop culture fix for the week and know all they need to know to overanalyze and/or speculate wildly about whatever show happens to require overanalysis or excessive speculation at any given time.  And then they have the rest of their week free to just ignore the TV.

Naturally, there’s no way the networks would actually go for this kind of thing, since they’re kind of dependent on having people watch the actual shows to sell advertising and make money.  For some odd reason, the various studios and networks haven’t had much luck trying to monetize random speculation about their shows from people on the Internet speculating about their stuff without actually watching it.  Just ask the producers of Sharknado how well that one has been working out for them (although to be fair I did actually manage to watch a decent portion of that one when it aired.  Best comedy of the year, by far.)  Ideally, I could see something like this being best done by a third-party network in order to keep the whole thing from turning into an exercise in slobbery self-promotion, but if something like this ever happened it would probably be the individual networks doing it with their own shows (and yes, any network actually crazy enough to do something like this would probably find it necessary to hire a number of new executives dedicated to doing nothing but meddling with this show all day.)

In other words, there’s no way it’s ever going to happen, at least not in any sort of useful form.  But it would certainly be a lot more convenient than actually watching television, wouldn’t it?

September 27, 2013

Why Cats are So Difficult to Shop For

Filed under: Random Stuff — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 12:35 am

Anyone got a can opener?

Depending on who you ask, cats are either the first or second most popular type of pet in America.  Although there are more dog-owning households than cat-owning households in America (a survey taken in 2007-2008 showed 45.6 million dog owners compared to 38.6 million households with cats,) the population of cats outnumbers the number of dogs by a considerable margin (the same survey estimated a population of 93.6 million cats compared to 77.6 million dogs.)  Even  taking in to account the crazy cat ladies that might be throwing off the average, households with cats tend to have more of them than households with dogs do.  It’s not hard to see why cats are so popular (among other things, they’re cute, they don’t take up a lot of space, and it’s fun to post videos of them on YouTube)  but in terms of interactivity, they generally fall quite a bit behind dogs.  Typically when cats aren’t either dragging dead and/or somewhat dead things into the house or trying to get you to feed them for the eleventh time today, they are lying around somewhere doing little of consequence.  Trying to take a cat out for a walk tends to be an exercise in futility, and half the time you can’t even get them to chase a catnip-infused mouse on a string (an activity which, at least according to the packaging the thing came in, cats are supposed to find irresistible.)

Because of this, people rarely seem to bother bringing their cats out in public.  Every once in a while you might see a cat or two on a leash somewhere, but you pretty much never see said cats actually enjoying (or even doing much more than merely tolerating) the experience.  On the other hand, in the mind of a dog there are few things that are quite as exciting as the daily walk with its many sights and smells.  Imola and Minardi, my parents’ two Beagles, will jump up and down with excitement rivaled only by that of feeding time if there is even a hint that a leash may be forthcoming.  Under the same circumstances, most cats would run off and go hide behind the couch.  Kaiya, my friend’s cat, is one of the rare ones that will actually tolerate a lot of the stuff most cats will shy away from.   My friend raised Kaiya from a very early age, having bottle fed her as a kitten after she was orphaned.  Because of this, Kaiya has been trained far more than a lot of the cats I’ve dealt with, and tends to be generally be calmer and more tolerant of things than most cats.  Naturally she still has her personality quirks and does occasionally like to misbehave, but what cat doesn’t?

One of the interesting things about modern pet stores is that many of them permit (and in some cases even encourage) people to bring their pets along with them.  Naturally, quite a few people take advantage of this, and on a good day you can see quite a few dogs.  Cats, on the other hand, tend to be in short supply, although you do see them every so often (not that I make a habit out of hanging out in pet stores, especially given the fact that I don’t currently have any pets of my own.)  Nonetheless, being bored last Saturday, we decided to take Kaiya over to the pet store just to let her wander around a bit, and possibly try out some new (and completely redundant) pet beds.

As I’ve noted above, the best case scenario for bringing a cat in public seems to be somewhere around tolerance.  I’m sure if you looked hard enough you could probably find someone who can manage to get their cat to tap dance in the middle of the rodent aisle while wearing an adorable little tuxedo or something like that, but any cat trained that well is probably going to be too busy making movies and signing eight-figure cat food endorsement deals to be hanging out in a random pet store in Bellevue.  Kaiya has been brought to the pet store on a number of occasions now, and on the times I’ve been along for the ride, her response seems to be somewhere between indifference and mild interest (at least until the ADD kicks in.)

Among other hobbies (or whatever the cat equivalent thereof happens to be,) Kaiya seems to be something of a connoisseur of beds.  Having at some point appropriated just about all of the beds in the house for napping purposes (after all, if you’re sleeping eighteen hours a day you want to make sure you’re comfortable during that time,)  she seems to have a particular inordinate fondness for fleece blankets bordering on some sort of odd fixation.  Given the large quantity of pet beds on offer at this store, we figured we might be able to find one to her liking.  She didn’t seem to care too much for this one.

This one came across a little bit better, but not much.  Mostly she seemed to be interested in just hanging out in the cart, which had been conveniently lined with a fleece blanket to provide a nice little spot to ride in.  Based on experience with previous trips to the pet store, we knew that Kaiya would jump back into the little child seat in the shopping cart if given the opportunity to do so.  Naturally, I thought this might be an interesting thing to record.  It took a couple of tries to get it, but eventually she figured it out again.

Then again, if I was a cat, I certainly wouldn’t complain too much about getting carted around the store in (relative) luxury while sitting and watching the world go by.  Actually, if I was a cat, I’d probably complain anyway, because that’s generally what cats tend to do most of the time.

Here we see Kaiya watching the action (from a safe distance, of course) in the small dog petsitting area.  It’s just as adorable (and just as loud) as it looks.

Anyone notice that nobody ever seems to have “Beware of Cat” signs?  You’d think anyone who’s dealt with cats long enough might consider something like that…

With plenty of cat beds still to go and not much time (or attention span, for that matter) remaining, we decided it would be a good idea to try out several at once.

Here’s how that worked out.  I’d call it an action shot, but there isn’t exactly a whole lot of action going on here.  In the end, none of the pet beds in the store seemed to be much to her liking, so we opted for a few cat treats and called it good.  One thing I did notice from this is that bringing a cat to the pet store seems to attract a lot of attention from random bystanders, most likely because you don’t see many of them (at least not compared to dogs, which seem to be a dime a dozen in the store on any given day.)  This is, of course, because most cats in this type of situation would probably bolt from the cart and hide underneath the first conveniently inaccessible shelf they could find the minute they got into the store.  Not sure I’d want to try it with a cat of my own though, unless I was really certain of what I was doing.

September 14, 2013

Some Thoughts on the Summer in Light of its Expected Departure

Filed under: Random Stuff — Brian Lutz @ 11:44 pm

Technically, Summer isn’t over just yet, but as it always does, it certainly seems to be headed in that direction.  Labor Day has passed, the kids have all headed back to school, the Halloween stuff is starting to show up in the stores, and it probably wouldn’t take much looking to start finding  Christmas stuff if you were so inclined.  Granted, the weather hasn’t turned the corner quite yet.  Sure, there were some pretty good thunderstorms here last week, but that kind of intense weather is unusual for this area during any time of the year, so we just chalked it up as an anomaly and moved on.  The period of several weeks that falls in between Labor Day and the Autumnal Equinox has always been something of an anomaly.  Technically it’s still Summer, and usually the weather reflects this, but at the same time it doesn’t quite feel that way.  Naturally, if you’re back in school at this point, you’re too busy with that to pay much attention.  On the other hand, if you’re in a position where you have the flexibility to actually use the time for something, it’s a good time to take a trip and avoid some of the Summer crowds while still having some decent weather.

But no matter what you end up doing with the last couple of weeks of Summer, the fact remains that it’s impossible to avoid the fact that Fall is on the way, and it will be here sooner than you think.  You try not to pay too much attention to the ever earlier sunsets, the subtle changes of the leaves on the trees or the big crateloads of pumpkins beginning to show up in the grocery stores, but they’re there.  Even though it was less than three months ago, the Fourth of July feels far more distant than that.  Before you know it the leaves will all be on the ground, the rain will come back for its annual nine-month climatic residency, and then finally the end of Daylight Savings Time arrives, at which point it starts getting dark before you can leave the office in the evenings, just to make the point that this stuff is going to be hanging around for a while.  The arrival of Fall is pretty much inevitable, and Nature makes no pretense of being subtle about any of it.

Since the departure of Summer and arrival of Fall is unavoidable (unless you happen to have the means to do the whole snowbird thing and go somewhere nice and sunny for the Winter), which I certainly don’t,) about all you can do is just go along with the whole thing.  Nonetheless, as the Summer wanes, it always seems to be a time for contemplation and looking back.  It is common to look back at the Summer and ask yourself if you made effective use of the limited amount of summertime you’ve been allocated.  Naturally, it’s up to each person to decide for themselves what the answer to that question is.  Although some people will have regrets about not having done as much as they would have liked to do during the Summer, I believe there are few people who  can truly say that their Summer has been wasted.  I suppose if you spent three much on the couch playing video games than you probably didn’t make effective use of your time, but I suspect most people managed to at least make it out of the house every once in a while.  I suspect that a significant portion of them managed to spend some quality time on outdoor activities during that period as well.  In the end, a lot of them may not have done as much as they would have liked to, but I’m sure they at least did something.

In my case, even though I spent a good portion of the Summer working long hours at work and generally didn’t get to do as much as I would have liked, when I look back at what I did do during the Summer, it actually turns out to be quite a bit of stuff.  In addition to the usual stuff (like the annual Disneyland trip, PAX, and the standard holidays) me and my friends managed to do a number of things on the weekends.  We made no less than three different trips to the various zoos to be found in the area (Point Defiance, Northwest Trek and Woodland Park) at various times, we attended a number of fairs and festivals of various shapes and sizes, and we generally did a fair bit of not sitting around the house when the circumstances permitted.  Of course, no matter what we actually did accomplish over the course of the Summer, there will always be a sense that you could have done more.  I find it’s best to just not dwell on this too much.  After all, even if it seems far away by now, Summer will be back eventually.  In the meantime, it’s getting to be just about time to start thinking about the upcoming Holidays and planning a Winter getaway (although in my case there isn’t much planning left to do; I’ve got most of it figured out already.)  Winter is on the way, and there isn’t much we can do besides possibly get out of the way for a bit, but at least I’m fortunate that I do have that option.

In the meantime as Fall approaches and brings early sunsets, cold rainy weather and a general sense of decline along with it, the best we can do sometimes is just play along with it, and realize that even this time of year does come with its own unique set of simple pleasures, even if they might be a bit tough to spot between the piles of dead leaves and chilly winds at times.  And even if we do have to slog through the Fall, Winter and Spring to get there, eventually Summer will find its way back.  Sure Summer may seem to be a finite resource (especially in a place like this), but at least it’s a renewable one.

August 19, 2013

The Stupidiest Idea I’ve Had in a While: Crowd De-funding

Filed under: Random Stuff — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 1:13 am

Right now, one of the hottest trends on the Internet is crowdfunding.  These days, it seems like practically everywhere you look there’s someone out there trying to get random people off the Internet to fun their pet projects for them.  Granted, it’s usually a lot more complicated than that, but basically it’s a fancy way of buying stuff that doesn’t exist yet in hopes of making it actually exist some day.  Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t.  Occasionally you hear about some big-name project that draws in millions (and subsequently disappoints pretty much everyone, but that’s beside the point.)  but those seem to be far more the exception than the rule.  The vast majority of projects on sites like Kickstarter or IndieGoGo arrive with far less ambitious goals, and typically just squeak in.

Really, there’s just one problem with the whole thing:  There’s really no way to stop it.  Sure, you can just not contribute to a project you don’t care for, but that doesn’t do much good if there’s thousands of other people throwing money into the thing and funding it anyway.  Most of the time you can just ignore the whole thing and move on, but every once in a while there’s a project that’s just so obnoxious, so hipsterish or so just-plain-stupid that you just wish you had some way to tell the people behind it to just shut up and get a life already.  And there’s no good way to do it. aside from random Internet trolling, and we all know how well that usually works out.  What we need is a way  to “vote against” Kickstarter projects like that, and put money behind that vote.

Since the obvious name for something like this has already been appropriated for a far less interesting idea, we need to come up with a different name for this.  For lack of anything better, I think I’ll call it Kickswatter for now.  Basically, it works just like any other crowdfunding scheme would work, aside from the fact that there’s also a “Defund” option added to the page, which will allow people to put up money to be subtracted from the project’s funding goal.  For example, if a project has raised $7,520 and someone puts up a $50 anti-contribution, that puts the total contributions for the project down to $7,470.  Basically, the anti-contributions go against the other contributions, possibly putting the project at risk of not being funded if enough anti-contributions are made.

Of course, there’s just one minor flaw in this whole thing:  Nobody in their right mind would go anywhere near a crowdfunding site like this, unless they had a really good reason to do so.  Which means we have to provide some sort of an incentive for people to use this system, which is where things really start to get interesting.  Let’s say that in spite of numerous anti-contributions being made, a project ultimately reaches its funding goal anyway.  If this happens, then the project not only gets all of the contributions that have been made to it, but also gets all of the anti-contributions added to their total.  They are under no obligation to provide any sort of donation incentives to any of the anti-contributors although they are welcome to provide such incentives as they see fit.  I’m picturing something like giant color glossy photographs of a middle finger in cases like this.  Actually, in (almost) every scenario, you have to guarantee that the anti-contributors “donations” are paid out to somewhere in order to make sure that people don’t just put down a bunch of anti-contributions on everything they see.  I suppose there’s always the ever-nebulous “charity” that they could be put to, but that seems like it could be open to abuse as well.  Then again, given the fact that I don’t even pretend to think that any of this is a good idea in the first place, I suppose I can just figure out that part as I go, right?

Anyway, here is what I figure some of the potential end scenarios for a crowdfunded project under this system could be, along with what I would expect the results to be:

  • If a project doesn’t reach its funding goal in the first place and the anti-contributions are irrelevant, nobody pays anything (thinking in gambling terms, this scenario would be considered a push.)
  • If a project reaches its funding goal, but is brought back below it by anti-contributions, then the project does not get funded, and the contributors don’t have to pay.  The anti-contributors do have to pay, and their money goes to the unspecified charity mentioned above.
  • If the anti-contributions to a project outnumber the contributions (resulting in a negative end total) then the result is the same as above, but the creators of the project are then prohibited from posting any new projects on the site for at least a year (yeah, I know there are other presumably less evil crowdfunding sites they could use instead, but we’ll just conveniently pretend they’re going along with the whole thing for a minute.)
  • If the anti-contributors manage to contribute enough to reach the inverse of project’s funding goal (for example, if a project with an $50,000 funding goal manages to end up at $-50,000,) all of the contributors’ funds get sent off to charity along with the anti-contributors’ funds, and the funding site sends someone personally to tell the project creators to get a life, and permanently bans them from the site.)
  • As outlined above, if the project manages to meet its funding goal in spite of anti-contributions, then the project gets the contributors’ funds plus the anti-contributors’ funds, regardless of the amount contributed against the project.  Presumably the anti-contributors get to feel really stupid at this point.

I’m sure that there are some minor details I’m not considering here (like the fact that I’m probably running afoul of about a dozen different gambling laws with the whole thing) but those can be worked out later.  Probably the biggest problem with this right now is figuring out a good place to put the anti-contributions.  Well, that and making sure that you don’t get about half a zillion undersupervised preteens using their parents’ credit cards to make big anti-contributions to everything on the site, but I’m sure an appropriate safeguard could be devised for that scenario.  There’s also the question of whether to permit people to create incentives against a project they don’t like (but I’m leaning toward no on that since there’s too much potential for it to be abused.)  Either way, I’m pretty sure nobody in their right mind would actually bother with this kind of thing in the first place, so it’s all pretty much academic anyway.  But it might make for a few amusing trainwrecks to watch for a while.  I’m sure it’s all quite amusing until you’re the one trying to fund your project.

Like I said up front, this was pretty much the stupidest idea I’ve had in a while, right?

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